My first encounter with racism occurred in the early ‘90’s when I was about 6 years old.

My mother was an independent maid and cleaned houses for a living most of my life. During the summer months I’d go with her to various houses. She had her regular clients, but every once in a while I’d find myself in a new house with new things and interesting pictures. My mother was the best at what she did and would always go over and beyond for her clients.

One day, at one of those “new homes” when my mother was done with some of her best work, she asked for her pay from the woman who owned the home. The woman nodded and walked away as though she was about to grab a check, but instead she came back with a shotgun pointed at my mom and a mouth full of racial slurs. My mother ordered me to the car and I am so grateful that she came behind me shortly after, shaken and stirred. I was numb.

Like my mother, I, too, run a small business. It’s the Drama MaMa Bookshop, a local stationery manufacturing company that allows consumers to build and even design their own notebooks and journals in a unique way. I cover many of my journals with affirmations that I needed to get me through rough times and serve as a reminder of my awesomeness, and I just figured others needed it too.

Being a Black-owned business has never been an easy task. To count yourself worthy of greatness in a society that has a tendency to grab a “shotgun” when you simply ask for what you’re owed is a magical act within itself. And because many of us don’t have access to capital we have to constantly find creative ways to get quality results with limited resources.

Then, COVID came and amplified some of the strains we already had and even created new ones. However, I also know that opportunities can arise out of difficult times. And it has forced many brick and mortar Black-owned businesses, like mine, to be innovative and creative in reaching and caring for our customers.

My first thought was, IF I’M GOING TO SURVIVE THIS, I NEED TO LEARN. If I don’t know how to do something, I’m definitely going to find someone who does and have them teach me.

So, I took an eight-week course in Facebook marketing and learned a great deal of information on how to navigate Facebook for my business model. It not only gave me an opportunity to reach my customers who were at home social distancing, but also new customers who wanted to pick up journaling again or send a hopeful reminder to a loved one who needed encouragement but were out of reach.

Sometime later, I was selected to be one of 70 businesses featured in the #BuyBlackFriday initiative and gift guide to highlight local Black-owned businesses. I was honored and excited. But more than sales, the ads and social media campaigns really provided me the peace of mind to know that I could still effectively run and grow my business despite all we were going through.

While we figure out the new normal, there are many new awakenings that I hope will stay around. One of them being the acknowledgement and understanding that we have to support Black-owned businesses. COVID or no COVID. It builds, sustains and strengthens our communities. You can be a part of that and get some excellent products and services at the same time.

Alisa Brock is the owner of Drama MaMa Bookshop in Baltimore.